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Demands Of The Student Solidarity March Released

Demands Of The Student Solidarity March Released

News Desk

The organisers Student Solidarity March have released their Charter of Demands following the announcement of the historic march taking place this week.

The Student Solidarity March will be taking place on November 29th. This march will be the second of it’s kind in the country and following the announcement of the march, the Charter of Demands was released.

A member of the march shared the Charter with ProperGaanda. It lists the following demands:

  1. Student representation in decision-making committees on campuses  

  • The inclusion of students in all decision-making committees ensures not only student representation within the administrative structures of a campus but also cultivates space for a democratic culture which includes the voices and opinions of students. This is essential as students are the most affected by policies implemented within their campuses and should therefore be able to not only voice their opinions on such matters but also have considerable power within these committees to impact decisions. It is also about treating students as partners in their education and openly encouraging them to participate in the management and development of all aspects of learning and teaching. If institutions want to steer away from the infamous consumerist type student relationship then communicating with and responding to students is an absolute must.

  1. The restoration of student unions 

  • Along with representation in committees, we believe that student unions should be restored in Pakistan. Student unions were banned in Pakistan during Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. Benazir Bhutto then rescinded the order in 1988; however, in 1993, the Supreme Court imposed a ban on unions. Unions and the University should be working in partnership, agreeing a shared set of principles that they can both work towards. In 2017, the members of the Senate passed a resolution calling for the restoration of student unions, citing that such structures have played an important role against dictators in the past and claimed that Mashal Khan’s murder would not have taken place if student unions were allowed on campus. The Pakistan National Human Development Report 2017 released by UNDP recognises the sustained depoliticisation of the youth in Pakistan and expresses its alarm stating that, “If state and society fail to take steps for meaningful and sustained political youth engagement, the youth — who are expected to comprise half of Pakistan’s population by 2025 — will have no experience of being involved in ideating, designing, deliberating and implementing public policies and decisions”. In this report they credit this depoliticsation to the banning of student unions among other factors. It is essential to realise that Students’ Unions lobby, debate and campaign on behalf of the students they represent and therefore play an important role in ensuring that student voices and concerns are not only heard but are also addressed. We believe that the restoration of student unions will democratise the campus space and will counter any efforts to stifle students’ voices.  

  1. Issuance of degrees to enrolled students  

  • The campuses that have been functional for more than a year and have been declared non-affiliated, unregistered, and unrecognised need to be recognised and students shouldn’t be made to suffer for the oversight and inefficiency of HEC or the corruption of private investors and university administrations. Either such campuses should be recognised by HEC or if they are to be shut down then students affected by this should be adjusted in the university whose name is carried by these institutes.   

  • Private investors need to be held accountable for their activities and the distress they cause students. Investors should be made to pay tuition fees for 25% of the existing student body of marginalised students.  

  • Legal proceedings should be initiated against private investors and others involved in the case of non-affiliated, unregistered, and unrecognised campuses. HEC should also be held accountable for its continual inefficiency, which is affecting thousands of students across the country. 

  1. Increase quotas for out of Punjab students and provide them with free education  

  • Quotas for students from out of Punjab have been reduced across educational institutions in Lahore and where these quotas have not been reduced students are now asked to pay tuition fee.  

  • Out of 120 districts in the country, 65 districts do not have any university or its campus. We demand that new universities or their campuses be opened in far-flung areas to facilitate students and increase their access to educational opportunities.

  1. Functional sexual harassment committees and policy 

Sexual harassment and abuse are about power—specifically, the enormous power men still wield over women. The present flood of accusations of sexual harassment and abuse globally and locally is an indication of how pervasive instances of abuse are and how deeply entrenched patriarchal structures are within our societies. We are cognizant of the fact that in cases of sexual harassment and abuse focus on just individual incidents of harassment, and not the structure that spawns them, is a weak strategy for change.  

We believe that sexual harassment is a structural issue and educational institutes are not doing enough in Pakistan to cater to cases of this form of violence. Sexual Harassment in Pakistan is criminalised under ‘The Protection Against Harassment of Women At The Workplace Act 2010’ and the Pakistan Penal Code. Moreover, university campuses can also be regulated further by the Higher Education Commission’s policy guidelines on sexual harassment. Despite the existence of these laws and regulations, educational institutes are largely failing to address cases of harassment due to the non-existence of a concrete sexual harassment policy and sexual harassment committees. We demand that all educational institutes not only put in place sexual harassment policies and procedures but also have functional committees that are survivor-friendly and have student representation.  

6. Make public expenditure on education 5% of GDP, allocate more funds to Higher Education Institutes provincially, and Increase funding to academic research 

  • Public Expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP is estimated to be 2.2% in FY 2017 as compared to 2.3% of GDP in FY 2016 (Pakistan Economic Survey 2017-2018). Only 14 out of 195 countries spend less on education than Pakistan. We demand that this be increased to 5% as a dearth of funds for the education sector hampers the quality of educational institutes, adversely affecting the quality of education and facilities available to students across Pakistan, especially in the public sector. Moreover, as per the draft education policy 2017, budgetary allocations for higher education are not proportionate to the needs of the 
country. Provinces are spending less than 13% of their education budget on higher education. It is essential that a higher proportion of finances be directed towards Higher Education Institutes. Another one of the principal reasons for slow progress in the education sector is the continual policy failure with regards to budgetary allocation. The Pakistan National Human Development Report 2017 flags that mostly budget to the education sector is directed towards paying overhead costs rather than investing in development of colleges and universities  

  • Pakistan’s GDP allocation for research and development (R&D) is 0.29 percent (as per draft Education Policy 2017). There is a continued focus by the HEC to increase the quantity of research while ignoring the quality, which tends to make research done in Pakistan fall extremely short to international benchmarks, making students’ access to newer knowledge about their own context impossible, while also making the degree programmes and research produced here as unviable as per international academia. 

  1. Stop Fee hikes 

  • Fee increases are related to the reduced budget for educational institutions. It is essential that a cap is placed on fee increases and recent fee increases are reduced back to their original level with a commitment to not increase fees for the next five years.  
  • The privatisation of public institutes increases the cost of education and needs to be halted.

  1. Improve quality of teaching and research   

None of the Pakistani universities have so far been able to secure a place in the list of top most 100 or even top most 500 universities of the world and only 27% faculty members of universities possess higher qualification PhDs (draft Education Policy 2017). This paints an overall abysmal picture of our higher education system and makes it next to impossible for the majority of the students especially from public universities to compete in international academia. 

  • Students should be taught up-to-date modern education, allowing them to compete with and in international standards of academia and research. Cultural implications or backwardness should not be used as an excuse by educational institutes to teach a reductive and out dated curriculum 

  • The difference between private and public universities in terms of curriculum and quality of education needs to be reduced. Public university students should have access to similar resources as those in private universities 

  • Antiquated teaching methods that promote rote-learning instead of skills development as a measure of students’ academic success should be transformed and a focus on critical thinking should be emphasised. 

  1. Freedom of Expression and Speech on campus 

  • Student research should be based on students’ interests and decisions, and not university dictated. It has been a common informal practice for corporations to dictate the research areas and topics, while also edging universities to teach a particular curriculum. Such practices lead to the quashing of critical thinking due to a profit-based interest where corporate money is used to fund educational institutes. Moreover, this is also a clamp down on the freedom of expression and speech of students as they are steered away from “contentious topics” and study circles on critical debates are shut down.  

  • The use of attendance as a disciplining mechanism needs to end. Grading should not be dependant on student attendance, as students do not attend classes not out of laziness or lack of commitment but because of the abysmal quality of education in their institutions.  

  • State institutions should not have the right to intervene in campus curriculums or dictate what should or shouldn’t be discussed on campus.  

  1. University budgets and audit reports should be made accessible to students 

Under the Federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) 2017-18, the government has allocated Rs 35.663 billion for 181 development projects 

The allocation of these funds by the government and the subsequent development projects need to be made transparent and accessible to the public. Along with this, we demand that all education institutes receiving public funding also follow suite and make information on allocation of funds accessible and public.  

  1. Adequate campus infrastructure:  

Under-utilisation of the education budget, especially development spending, has far reaching consequences for the infrastructure facilities at public institutes, like provision of clean drinking water, toilets, electricity and even boundary walls. Lack of funds and poor infrastructure at these institutes – poorly equipped libraries, a non-existent research culture and inadequately trained faculty – lead to a student body ill-prepared for university learning.  

We demand that the bulk of budgetary allocations be catered to development spending in the education sector and students be provided with basic necessities: clean drinking water, washrooms, furniture, and electricity; along with a free transportation system, proper hostels that look less like prison cells and reflect a proper campus dormitory, up-to-date libraries and free to use internet services across the campus. 

  1. Securitisation of Campuses  

The securitisation of campuses due to policies under the National Action Plan needs to be brought to an end, as these mechanisms are less for the protection of students and used more for their humiliation. To justify the dangerous securitisation of campuses, many institutions have invoked safety as the sole reason, clearly not recognising that the safety of all should be considered. 

  1. End racial profiling in educational institutes  

  1. Remove hate-content from the curriculum 

  1. Make regional languages optional courses in universities  

  1. Implement a uniform hostel curfew policy regardless of gender 

  1. 13th April to be declared Mashal Day and made a public holiday

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